Internal Instabilities: Shortcomings and Potentials of IMC

Does Indymedia exist to empower beyond feel good rhetoric or has it in some cases become an image, a brand, or a self-serving identity? How accessible is it vs. how alienating can it be? A discussion aimed and making recommendations or sharing feedback to the global IMC network.

INDYMEDIA CONFERENCE: Internal Instabilities: Shortcomings and Potentials of IMC;

*FRIDAY 4.30-6.30 PM.*

What is community empowerment?

  • DIY
  • Anti- professionalism
  • The idea that anyone can make media.

  • Role of Indymedia in global movement building- and role in anti-capitalist struggles.
  • Aaron- Philly: IMC as promoting social justice through non-corporate media.
  • For some in room- the struggle for peace and social justice is inseparable from anti-capitalism.

  • What do we mean by liberation? What are the physical goals of Indymedia? For example, training- should that be an inherent requirement of Indymedia?
  • Arkansas IMC: we are starting an Indymedia space and want to take people who don\x92t necessarily have tech/computer skills and teach them how to do these things. Which feeds into empowerment- people feel pride in well-made media that looks professional.
  • San Fran IMC: Empowerment and training are very important but remain somewhat meaningless if this conversation doesn\x92t go beyond existing activist communities. Need to disseminate information in our communities, beyond the activists already talking to each other.

  • Websites: There are millions of websites, we need to go beyond this for outreach like print etc\x85

  • A lot to be learned from video activism of 80\x92s as they were about giving access. There were big problems that were related to the inability form the movement to connect iwht political struggles outside of themselves. Which then means that empowerment is not just in terms of those who learn the skills, but also the wider community.

  • DC: this could be the central nervous system for this other world that\x92s possible. If the muscle doesn\x92t have that nervous system it will atrophy. We need to think much more big picture and work internationally across movements. We need more coordination and sophistication in terms of the coordination we do. Need for vision. In terms also of the digital divide and places where there is not access, there is a need to connect places that are not.

  • Those involved in the beginnings of IMC: one of the first conferences was in Vermont and we had a 2 hour debate about whether IMC should be explicitly anti-capitalist or not, and though most of the people in the room were anarchists, we decided not to chose that identity, to be open and non-hierarchical, but to be open and to allow for growth. Think its important for IMC not to adopt specific political agendas beyond peace and justice.

  • But we can have some principals about the way we organize, saying that the collective is not going to be a for-profit organization for example, would be a good principle for the network. Which still allows for individuals within the org to have their own beliefs. So there is a base set of principles which is different from your individual freedom to be who you are in the world. Indymedia is at an interesting crossroads now. It\x92s been around 5 years, there have been numerous splits and problems around the world, and we have a lot of things to learn. We have turnover, new people coming in and others leaving. And we aren\x92t that good at communicating with each other about what we are, what our history is and what the principles of unity are.

  • One complication working with people in Venezuela who want to star t an IMC, and they are deciding how to position themselves in regard to Chavez, and figuring out whether IMC has always to be against the party in power. Is one of the principles that IMC should not be aligned with any political party- or shouldn\x92t become an arm of any political party. But we can still cover political parties.

  • When IMC began, there were not permanent IMC, they were just set up for protests, there were groups like Paper Tiger and Deep Dish. 5 years later we have all these independent organizations. But a problem is that there is an Indymedia exclusivity test going on. Which is a very dangerous thing. So we need to figure out how to serve our communities, to network with others around the world, while still collaborating with all these older organsition that have been around for 30 years.

  • Purity idea really affects new groups that want to sign on, and it can be very off-putting for new groups and time consuming.

  • Especially for local community groups who want to use the network, they get very intimidated by it. But the anti-capitalism, the racial or class set up, and also whether everything has to have Indymedia on it.

  • Question of branding- we don\x92t want to brand ourselves like the Nike swoosh. So for example, something that was put forward by the Women\x92s working group that women and people of color be included in this. How do you set up structures to protect each other and still have autonomy.

  • Aaron: interesting that IMC is so focused on process. Where process almost becomes more important than the product- so for example the principles of unity are all about process.

  • IN terms of process versus product: are you saying that Indymedia should espouse a certain type of end product? Does that mean quality or content?

  • Aaron: as a network we shouldn\x92t have an idea of what we want Indymedia to do.

  • The reason is because we are just trying to build community media, and most of the people involved don\x92t have experience in feeling comfortable having a say, because we are trying to build non-hierarchical media which has never been done before. If it was focused all on product, we would become like the professional media just producing and producing.

  • It\x92s often hard to set it up without a website. So often it will be a couple of white guys setting up a website and then going to the community to tell them about this resource.

  • If you are going to set up an Indymedia in a place, then the community needs to have a say in this as to how it will be run. We need to go to different active groups and ask them to collaborate with us rather than just setting it up and then asking for their involvement. Which is a similar problem when we set up IMC\x92s in developing countries

  • That speaks to our work generally- we descend on a community with a lot of resources and then when we leave, it\x92s bad experience because we haven\x92t set up ways to make it sustainable. For example Cancun, which was a really bad story- the March in Mexico City and Guadalajara where people got beaten up. There weren\x92t the numbers there or the support.

What would a solution be for this?
  • To create a space where the host community is the main focus. Which is what we did in Miami and the Root Cause march and the way that the Miami Model was produced.

  • A lot of fore-planning went in to Miami IMC. People in Miami were able to meet up with each other there.

FTAA IMC is now basically in Spanish.

  • There is a workshop about setting up traveling IMC\x92s. And what we\x92ll be talking about it how to work with host communities to leave something lasting. - see ImcATXConf05MassMobWorkshop and the links off that page

  • There is a difference between everyone going to a place for an event and setting something up and then rushing out, and then there is also a really important role we can play in places that don\x92t have IMC\x92s, without a convergence, to help set up IMC\x92s and make them sustainable. We in the North have a real role in being able to fundraise, get equipment and bring it down and I don\x92t think we should put that down.

  • I though this workshop was about race and gender and so I want to know how we can get more diversity in our groups.

  • In Arkansas, it was your typical two white guys starting it up and we haven\x92t had much luck in diversifying it at all. But I personally went out and started working with an interfaith worker\x92s center, working on worker\x92s issue sand particularly the immigrant workers. So I found that by getting out of my regular circle, which is the another way of doing this.

  • Saskia: Need to persist and go openly and not to ask people to join just to become more diverse. Need also to help with community\x92s issues.

  • I am very impressed with the saint Louis IMC and what they do is go into the community and talking about their issues. but which also involves looking into their own role in race and gender, including looking into their role in gentrification in terms of the space they bought etc.

  • It really takes time. In Austin the IMC is housed in a white anarchist collective. We are really trying to figure this out, but it\x92s in terms of a 5 year plan, and if we can get one or two families a year involved that would be a success for us.

  • No more prisons benefit CD- hip hop, is a real hit. And I bought a bunch of copies and I think that would be a great thing for people to do, is local music. Called Arkansas Rising.

  • DC: we have a paper, and we also have not just a Spanish page, but also fiction and poetry. And hopefully this next issue we are going to have an Ethiopian page. So it\x92s giving people a blank page in the paper with which they can do as they like. They have their own paper in DC, but some people see the value in cross pollination.

  • In Austin, through the umbrella of a 501-C3, we are providing alternative community service to youth of color, so that instead of going and digging ditches they can come in and learn video and document gentrification, that\x92s something I am really proud of.

  • Schools are another place to really consider is schools. In Miami, we had kids who came and in their journalism class got involved and within a half hour they were posting info on how the corporate media had lied to them.

  • Kids can teach you so much, they pick it up really quickly.

  • I think that\x92s a key to the empowerment, is that everyone and every community has a story. You can\x92t force non white makes to post on your site or make media, but you can ask people to tell their stories. Which is why I am not big on making things looked polished- what might look good to you would not look good to a teenager.

  • It\x92s always great to look at the Zapatistas as an example. It\x92s an armed insurrection- and their community media tool 9 years to build because they wanted to be sure everyone was involved

  • Victory: an ongoing Portland strategy, and this is what got us off the ground to begin with, is having people take turns to go to different organizations and community groups, finding out what\x92s going on with them, reminding them that our resources are available, reporting on what\x92s going on initially but also going back and showing them the finished product, the video or whatever. And because it\x92s a part of Portland culture, people will be talking about it in the hardware store for example. And this feeds a cycle where people realize that it\x92s being listened to, they will get involved and make media and bring others in. and they realize how it\x92s also a good medium for advertising events and so on. Another thing is trainings, we do more one on one mentoring than large workshops. It has a life of its own, at this point we are basically the enablers who make sure everything works and providing training, but we are not the ones writing all the content etc.

  • TV project: we had where the IMC person running it wasn\x92t willing to show them how to put things up etc, but eventually people did stat to feel ownership.

Do people think that censorship is an issue with the IMC and are there any rules on censorship with the IMC?
  • Early on, there was absolutely no moderation of the newswires, which is something else we also hotly debated in Vermont. But as Indymedia centers grew and we got more attention, people started posting all sorts of stuff from pornography to racist crap, and so those are the main things that now get taken down.

  • In other words are people worried about maybe people\x92s political beliefs clouding their judgment about what should and should not be moderated?

  • Brent- Eric and I always disagree about moderation- and I always think we should take things down like Christian fundamentalism. And I think we should take them down even if they\x92re not bigoted- because we want to keep a space for the things that really address our community\x92s need.

  • There are different ways to deal with this- with things that are irrelevant, you can put them down at the bottom of the page, and that\x92s a way to discourage people.

  • For me- anything racist, sexist or classist has to go.

  • I think it\x92s important to discuss what censorship means- but in the IMC, censorship is to deny people a voice and so there are plenty of places people can go and look at sexist stuff but we want to provide them with these other voices.

  • I don\x92t think it should be just that other people can find a voice.

  • I think that\x92s where the principles of unity really come into play- in San Francisco we went from being really open to getting loads of crap and now we have a policy where we have a newswire. We always based our policy on the principles of unity- and we have a process to deal with stuff- so if something goes against our principles we have a way to deal with it.

  • We do have these basic principles of anti-racism and anti-homophobia, we can at least agree with that if we can\x92t agree on anti-capitalism. But sometimes things that are completely different from what we are thinking about can help us see things in a different way. So I am usually for letting as much as possible, anything go up a s long as it\x92s not hate-speech but that also depends on traffic.

  • As an idea I wonder if we could have some kind of rating system by the community people who use it. =
    • Do you mean asking women to rate something as sexist etc?
    • Yes.
    • There is software that does that. <== reference to DadaIMC

  • DC: One of the things that I\x92m aware of is that sometimes we\x92ll be telling people about the site and there\x92 a flam war going on. I wonder what people think about the rights of some people being aloud to post anything they want versus turning away some people in the community. What about a differentiation between the newswire where anything goes and the editorial parts?

  • Most IMC\x92s are using a compost bin- people for example will write to us complaining that NYC IMC is censoring my article- here is the link. So it\x92s still up there. But it has been composted. But we were almost denied access to an event because people had come across composted articles that made people think we were a completely racist anti-Jewish organsition. So that\x92s still an issue that this content is there. As far as voting- there is a requirement to register with your email address so that people aren\x92t submitting a million votes, and I feel that\x92s a bad security risk and an embarrassment.

  • London IMC: there are different ways groups approach this: Sydney IMC- they repost stuff around the network and you lose a lot of the local content, versus UK Indymedia who have quite clear policies on content. But this is evolving as always. I think this is a discussion that people should be having in their own IMC\x92s and we don\x92t\x92 need to be having it here.

  • Some racist groups have gotten very sophisticated- we have come into some serious attack from Protest Warriors and redirected us to the Bush Cheney site. They found a flaw in Dada and we were able to fix it after that. And it\x92s pretty int\xDFense moderation they do, and is really quite daunting. But I agree we should move on to something else.


  • I have a different strategic take on making people feel comfortable in making their own media. I don\x92t think saying come on in and produce crap is a good way. We should say we know you\x92re dealing with important issues and we are media activists and we can show you how to check your facts, write a letter etc. I don\x92t think we should shy away from that, people think that\x92s what the corporate media does which I don\x92t think it is. And someone said that people like to feel pride in their work, and I agree that we should strive to help people make good quality things.

  • That leads into an interesting question that Austin IMC has dealt with which is is Indymedia a source for the left alone or a source for everyone to come and read and respect it. I think that a problem in general with leftist media is the checking of sources, extrapolating numbers and so on. I would like us to be able to take a quote form a crazy right wing guy and make him see what it means. It\x92s a question of who we see our audience as.

  • I think it\x92s really a delicate balance, it\x92s much more complicated. We don't want it to be too polished- we don\x92t want to be in suits and ties. But yes it shouldn\x92t go too far to the other extreme. Btu also, if someone\x92s edited a video and put a lot of work into it, and it\x92s the only source, but say the audio is bad, then that should still make it into the video showing. I don\x92t think we should go to either extreme too far. And also mentoring people, even writing an article about it on the website. As far as fact checking goes, why else have the comment section- that\x92s what it\x92s for. That\x92s accountability from the community.

  • I came into Indymedia- I was working as a human shield in Oaxaca Mexico, and no one was paying attention to us, and so we started publishing on Indymedia, and people in Indian and South Africa put us up and we started getting phone calls and support. So it\x92s really important to remember that- Indymedia has actually saved people\x92s lives and gotten people out of jail, and the more professional and accurate we are, the more we can be useful. Our campaign in Oaxaca, is working, Chomsky just signed on.

  • Professionalism means different things- the way you are talking about it means accurate, quality, whereas other people think of it as doing a job and so on. So the other meaning of it is when people are doing it as a stepping stone to a career or just parroting corporate media.

  • The Fault Lines collective (indybay newspaper) is dealing with a lot of this now. I\x92d like to hear a different terminology for what professionalism is. I don\x92t think it\x92s a very good word, its very weighted. By some folks it\x92s used as a means of editorial control in terms of who in the community can write and produce content.

  • When we first started working on Portland Cable Access TV show- our discussions were about what\x92s our format? So we started asking who is our intended audience? Is it people who are used to watching corporate media and then do we want to parrot that but give them different information? Or do we want to change the format? Many of us didn\x92t want to be sterile but we realized we would be reaching a whole different audience.

  • Curious about the issue of paying people? I have seen some very storng opinions about that. Some people think nobody should get paid for doing this. But it\x92s unclear to me that giving people money to do the work and live on is necessarily against our non-hierarchical philosophy.

  • Ana: we do pay one person, John Tarleton, who keeps NYC IMC open and afloat. We don\x92t pay anyone for media making. But as a collective we decided there\x92s a lot of work we need done that no ones want to do. So we give John US$600 a month in NYC which is hardly sustainable, but he\x92d been working for four years at the NYC IMC, and we are proud of it.
    • Just to clarify: Along with John, in the past other people have been paid to manage/sell advertising for the Indypendent newspaper, and manage fundraising one job application, and another. Use of money/paying people has been a controversial issue since the beginning of IMC, and I think it demands careful, cautious attention. -- PatrickPatrick

  • One of the things we are doing with the Spark is- the Post sits on the list serves, and they go out and write the story and they then take credit for it. So we are trying to do our own fact checking and producing the stories. But I do think Indymedia could have different types of product.

  • I think that saying putting people, everyone\x92s individual worth before something as crazy as deadlines is really important. Through IndyBay we have a TV working group and we have really tried to learn from other groups how to make a kick ass product that we work on so hard, but still be able a the end of the day to be accountable to each other and deal with problems. In addition to check-ins, having community events would be good, inviting in community groups to talk about coverage or screenings etc.

  • Arkansas: We noticed the local corporate paper had been breaking stories we had been talking about and we had big discussions about how can these corporate bastards steal our stories? But then we realized that id they are going t o publish our stuff, we should then concentrate on grassroots media.


from bht

-- AaronCouch - 15 Feb 2005
-- SaskiaFischer - 19 Feb 2005 - notes
-- GarconDuMonde - 20 Feb 2005 - wiki-fied and added a couple of small links. thanks saskia!
-- PatrickPatrick - 06 Mar 2005 - added notes to nyc reference
Topic attachments
ISorted descending Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
IMCpanel.docdoc IMCpanel.doc manage 41 K 19 Feb 2005 - 21:27 UnknownUser Notes from conference session
Topic revision: r9 - 22 Apr 2005, BenHadTue
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